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Berlin struggles to sell former Goebbels villa

The Local · 28 Aug 2014, 12:20

Published: 28 Aug 2014 12:20 GMT+02:00

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The address of the former villa of Hitler's propaganda minister is as misleading as it is revealing.

Number One, Friendship Place, northeast of Berlin, is thought to have been where Joseph Goebbels produced some of his most virulent speeches against Jews. But it's also where Goebbels wooed the starlets of the Berlin's Babelsberg film studios.

Known as Bogensee for the property's small lake, it was built as a getaway for Goebbels northeast of the German capital, far from the retreat southwest of the city on an island in the Wannsee where he would stay with his wife and six children.

After World War II the site, near the town of Wandlitz, became home to a high school for the socialist Free German Youth (FDJ) where a young Erich Honecker studied.

The FDJ was the youth wing of the German socialist party, SED, that controlled East Germany and would eventually be led by Honecker.

But for the last 15 years the massive property has been abandoned.

Sprawled across nearly 17 hectares of mainly forested land, the original complex boasts 70 rooms in the main building called Haus am Bogensee, guest houses and a farmhouse by the lake. Later, the estate's Soviet-era school buildings added large halls, lecture theatres and residences.

The grounds are overgrown and the greying buildings show signs of neglect, though a minimum of maintenance has been done, costing the city €150,000 a year.

The Berlin Property Fund, the agency in charge of the property, tried to sell it in 2006 and 2008, but shut down bidding process on both occasions due to lack of demand.

Marlies Masche, spokesperson for the fund, says this time they have several interested parties. But to avoid interfering with the competitive process, she says, Masche did not reveal how many bidders are involved, nor the asking price.

Berlin-based real estate appraiser Günter Lehmann says the property is highly valuable, but difficult to assess without a full, on-site evaluation. He valued the land alone at roughly €15 million euros.

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the complex had been in continual use by the FDJ, and became home to an international social work organization after November 1989, but it left the property a decade later.

Back in the time of the Third Reich, Goebbels was known to seduce women and bring them to the estate to fulfill his sexual appetites.

His conquering manner toward women is thought to have been one way the Nazi compensated for the inadequacy he felt as an Aryan specimen, according to British historian Sir Richard Evans.

Goebbels stood a mere 5 ft. 5 in. with brown hair and brown eyes, slowed down by a club foot he was left with after an operation failed to cure a childhood infection.

One notable escapade played out on the grounds of Bogensee brought Goebbels into conflict with Adolf Hitler himself.

Goebbels' affair with the Czech film star Lida Baavora became public and prompted his wife, Magda, to consider divorce. When Hitler found out about Goebbels' lewd behaviour, he ordered an end to the affair.

The Goebbels connection may have made the property difficult to sell over the years. The infamous propaganda minister's name is noticeably absent from the document intended to pitch the estate to potential buyers.

Berlin also wants to make sure the property doesn't end up in the wrong hands, particularly those of neo-Nazis who could turn it into a gathering point for the extremists or a shrine to the former propaganda minister.

That means background checks for anyone who submits a bid for the property.

The city also intends to make sure the idyllic woodland surroundings are protected and that they approve of any plans for the property. Suggested uses include: hotel, medical clinic, boarding school and retirement home.

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The building interiors are in good condition and taken alone could be an attractive investment, but for the Berlin Property Fund, the overall site's dark history may prove too much to overcome.

"We want a total use of the site," says Masche. "The Goebbels villa is very difficult to separate from the rest."

"There is no deadline for a decision on the bidding process," admits Masche.

Stuck in the shadow of Goebbels' lurid villa, Berlin may have to continue bearing the costs of its history.

Tomas Urbina is currently an Arthur F. Burns Fellow with The Local Germany.

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